W + GRA at UNC Charlotte Serves as a Driver in Shaping Key Conversations to Improve the Lives of Women + Girls in Charlotte
February is African-American, or Black History Month and the Women + Girls Research Alliance (W + GRA), an affiliate of urbanCORE at UNC Charlotte, has been shaping key conversations and narratives that are geared to improving the lives of black women and girls across the greater Charlotte metropolitan region. Founded in 2006, W + GRA provides UNC Charlotte faculty, students and the community at large with opportunities for research and education on women’s policy issues. Its primary areas of focus include employment and earnings, civic and political engagement, economic security, health and well-being and violence against women. Dr. Michelle Meggs, Executive Director of W + GRA says that the Alliance fosters increased collaborations between community members and UNC Charlotte, enhances public knowledge of its educational opportunities and services and increases both faculty and student research that addresses these fundamental and regional issues for women.
Gender and race-based challenges and discrimination are ubiquitous at the workplace and W+GRA’s multi-faceted initiatives are geared to addressing and eliminating these biases. The Alliance’s competitive grant program, for example, represents W + GRA’s efforts to support new and ongoing research initiatives to highlight issues that women and girls face in the workforce, particularly those exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 seed grant program emerged from the 2021 Women’s Summit and was predicated on a Recovery and Discovery theme and how women and girls emerged from challenges in a dual pandemic. Held in March 2021 in partnership with Ally Financial and Bank of America, six Seed grants of $5000 each were awarded to researchers during the 2021-2022 academic year to support new, or ongoing research efforts that were aligned with the Alliance’s research efforts.
Black Girls Film Camp
The Black Girls Film Camp, which is now a 501 C3 nonprofit organization was one of four recipients of the 2021 competitive seed grants. The organization provides free, virtual 12-week experience for high school black girls from across the country. As part of the camp, high school girls pitch a story idea, with 10 being selected to have their short film project go into production. Over 200 black girls across the country applied for the 2022 camp with 10 girls being selected. The camp served as an incubator for the selected finalists and each of their films and just recently the 2023 cohort selection was completed.
Besides the seed grants, W + GRA also supports women-centered, research projects that are focused on improving the lives of Black Women and Girls across Charlotte. Bridging the Gap: Assessing and Managing the Impact of COVID-19 on Black Women and Families’ Social Mobility in Charlotte, NC, a study directed by UNC Charlotte faculty Dr. Kendra Jason, Dr. Tehia Starker Glass and Dr. Janaka Bowman Lewis, explored factors in Black women’s social mobility including housing security, work, and their children’s educational stability, while also addressing these factors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following 15 women-led and housing insecure Black families (in a series of interviews) over an academic school year, and using an intersectionality framework, Drs. Jason, Glass and Lewis addressed the question of why Black women have the highest odds of housing insecurity and the lowest odds of social mobility in a city as economically viable as Charlotte, NC. They also delved deeper into the issues surrounding Black women and their families’ slower recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a collaborative effort with community liaison and transitional director, Danielle Brown, Drs. Glass and Lewis gathered and combined community efforts across Charlotte centering on Black women’s (narratives of) housing and educational conditions to investigate what is needed to stabilize their situations and build options for social mobility. Strategies for improvement in their daily experiences is currently in progress.
W + GRA funded Dr. Alicia Dahl’s research project that focuses on the increased stress associated with the risk of infection and the potential consequences for women and children as a result of the pandemic. The goal of the project is to understand the experiences of primiparous women across North Carolina who give birth and enter postpartum within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
W + GRA also offers virtual training modules, through its “Developing the Paper Chase” research project initiatives. The modules provide overview of the processes of science communication and research dissemination efforts with an emphasis on gender equity. These modules are part of the curriculum for undergraduate students who are accepted into the Charlotte Research Scholars and Charlotte Community Scholar programs offered at UNC Charlotte. Dr. Michelle Meggs, W + GRA Executive Director says “by funding this project, the W+GRA is supporting research that aims to lessen the gender gap in women’s enrollment in STEM programs, research publications, and their future jobs in STEM fields
Black Mothers Summit
W + GRA also hosts the “Supporting Home-Insecure Black Mothers Summit,” annually in partnership with the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and the Center for the Study of the New South through UNC Charlotte’s Program in Interdisciplinary Studies. The Summit addresses housing insecurity, food insecurity, career services, and youth educational programs connected with Black home-insecure mothers navigating their children’s education, employment, and housing insecurity at Freedom Communities in Charlotte, NC. In 2022, eight community organizations which included Charlotte Works, DreamKey Partners, Families Forward Charlotte, Freedom School Partners, Gracious Hands Housing, Project Bolt, The Coalition for Cultural Compassion and The Salvation Army Center of Hope, partnered with W + GRA to support local Black mothers. More information at https://cltblackmsothers.org.
Black Mothers Summit and Bi-Annual W + GRA Summit
Following the successful Supporting Home-Insecure Black Mothers Summit in May 2022, project leads and Dr. Dace Brown of College of Health and Human Services will host a Black Mothers Summit this April 2023, connecting participants to resources in the community, but also giving them space to focus and make recommendations in policy and practice related to economic mobility and wellbeing. In April 2023, W + GRA will also hold its bi-annual summit “Time to Thrive” which will delve deeper at ongoing efforts, critical questions and concerns to promote public dialogue, inform public policy and programmatic priorities, focusing on key areas such as education, employment, economic security, health and violence against women.
“W + GRA is committed to improving the lives of women and girls in the greater Charlotte metropolitan area by facilitating partnerships among researchers, community leaders and civic investors that produce transformative outcomes” said Dr. Meggs. An affiliate of UNC Charlotte’s urbanCORE, W + GRA leverages its unique connection to UNC Charlotte and the community to implement three strategies that produce innovative solutions to systemic challenges that impede the well-being of women and girls. For more information on W + GRA and its current and future initiatives targeted to support women and girls across Charlotte visit womenandgirlsalliance.charlotte.edu and/or contact Executive Director, Dr. Michelle Meggs at firstname.lastname@example.org.